An eight-foot granite monolith planted firmly at a bend on George Street bears a bronze plaque carrying these words:
“The First Baptist Church in Massachusetts was founded near this spot in 1663. Rev. John Myles, James Brown, Nicholas Tanner, Joseph Carpenter, Eldad Kingsly, Benjamin Abby, John Butterworth, Founders.”
A small group of preservations are hoping the unique historical characteristics of this section of town, and specifically of a home located next to the site of the former church, will lead to an eventual designation on the National Register of Historic Places.
The group is also hoping that their work will create obstacles for a private developer who plans to build homes on the same land where the church was first constructed.
Recently, Burton Van Edwards, Elizabeth Warren, Nathaniel Lane Taylor and Charles Hartman submitted a packet of information regarding the historical importance of this land to the town. The information posed the question: “What is the best way to preserve and protect Nockum Hill from overdevelopment?”
Mr. Edwards said the National Register designation would not prevent the project — called the Residences at the Preserve — from being built, but would have another effect.
“It would subject it to a lot of bureaucratic red tape,” said the local preservationist and longtime resident, adding that the National Register status would mean additional levels of review for the development. He said that review could come from the Army Corp of Engineers and the Coastal Resources Management Council, among others.
The town’s planning board has already denied the builder’s initial plans, stating concerns with density, the loss of the historic character of the neighborhood and potential problems with the septic system and its proximity to nearby farmland and Hundred Acre Cove. An attorney for the developer appealed the board’s decision to the State Housing Appeals Board.
SHAB officials have not heard the appeal yet, affording the preservationists a measure of time to file the request for National Register status.
Mr. Edwards is hopeful the group’s request will be embraced by the state historical commission. Part of his optimism is based within the walls of the “West House” — a single family home located near the site of the First Baptist Church in Massachusetts.
“We started focusing on the house … if we put that house on the National Register, the builder will have to go through every hoop” to earn approval for the work.
Mr. Edwards said he and some other preservationists took a tour of the home and were “completely and utterly stunned” by what they saw. He said the home was built nearly 300 years ago and once served as a tavern. He said its interior is nearly intact to its original construction and provides amazing details from years passed, including graffiti found inside the walls that dates back to 1770.
Mr. Edwards said the group plans to invite an official from the historical commission for a tour of the home in the near future. He said he’s planning to have a meeting scheduled with the commission within a month or two.
“By Jan. 15 we hope to have a determination of eligibility for National Register status,” Mr. Edwards said.